PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — MOST of Haiti's military officers and soldiers are deserting, being ousted, or losing rank in a crucial campaign to reform the country's most powerful institution.
But to break the historic cycle of military rule and ensure democracy, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will have to look beyond the barracks. Haiti's armed forces have become deeply entrenched in their 80-year existence, controlling everything down to the village well.
Many experts here consider essential the complete dismantling of a system that has allowed military corruption to flourish over decades. This includes revamping the legal system, cleaning up public administration, and overhauling the economy. (Agricultural reform, Page 7).
``[You must] disconnect the state enterprises from the hands of the military,'' an Aristide official says. ``The electric company, the national insurance company - those used to be private funding sources for the police chief. Once those advantages are gone ... a major incentive to be part of the military will be lost.''
Realizing the basis of his success rests on forging a military he can trust, President Aristide approved a US-imposed commission of five Haitian military men to screen the 7,500-member Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH), determining their eligibility for a drastically reduced Army and new police force. The first of nine week-long programs to train recruits for a 3,000-member interim police force began yesterday.
That Aristide appointed the commission before his prime minister - yesterday he named Smarck Michel, a businessman who served briefly as commerce minister in 1991 - underscores the urgency of military reform.
Aristide also announced the transfer of 13 high-ranking officers of the old regime to overseas posts on Oct. 19, just days after returning to office. At least one officer, Col. Carl Dorilian, chief adviser to Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, submitted his resignation rather than accept his transfer.
BUT the task of reforming Haiti's military, seen as a band of terrorists, into a legitimate body that safeguards the nation, will be enormous. Various human rights organization have accused rank-and-file soldiers of supplementing their $80-per-month salary by stealing or extortion. High-ranking officers have been charged with human rights violations and million-dollar drug-trafficking rackets.
So the United States is helping out. ``We have an extensive database from various intelligence services,'' said Gen. David Meade, commander of US ground forces in Haiti.
The US forces plan to exclude ``anyone who has a history of causing trouble, of being involved in criminal acts, drug deals, [of being] responsible for killing people,'' General Meade said last week. The US had planned to use the rump Haitian military as the basis for a new national police force. It became clear early on that that would not be popular with the Haitian population.
But one source inside the Aristide government says the US will still try to use many from the military in the revamped security forces by using methods such as relocating soldiers from the north to serve in the south, where they are unknown.
Aristide has recommended a 1,500-man military, whose job as described in Haiti's 1987 Constitution is restricted to guarding the border, assisting in development projects, and providing disaster relief. The US has advised a force with at least twice as many Haitian soldiers.
``As for police ... El Salvador has 15,000 for the same population,'' says William O'Neill, a consultant for the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees in New York, on a recent fact-finding trip here. ``Haitians could have a fair amount less: 6,000 to 8,000 including firefighters, an antidrug unit, a normal constabulary.''
Those deemed ineligible to serve in either the police or military force will receive a stipend until the end of Aristide's term or be considered eligible for assistance by the US Agency for International Development for job training outside FADH. USAID has allocated $5 million to provide services for those members of the FADH excluded from further military service.
``Many of these guys were not in [the military] for the ideology,'' a human rights activist says. ``If they see there is something in their self-interest ... they may not create much of a problem.''
Nonetheless, the institution's purge has many soldiers worried. A high-ranking officer says some FADH members are so afraid that their crimes will be discovered they have deserted their posts. Others have remained in place but say they would rather accept a civilian job than be investigated for the new police.
Others are secretly delighted by the changes but will not outwardly show it. They worry that before the military changes hands they will be mistreated by higher-ranking officers who remain loyal to General Cedras.
``If there's a bad tendency within the officer corps,'' says another officer on condition of anonymity, ``they should be fired or tried, or at the very least replaced. Fortunately Aristide has returned with some good officers, and he has people who can help him identify those who need to be weeded out. I think the majority are just opportunists who have conformed to the situation, and they'll adapt to the new one.''